When you think of Argentine athletes, futbol greats like Diego “10” Maradona and Lionel Messi, often come to mind – boxers don’t. Well, southpaw Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez is poised to change that by becoming this century’s first porteño powerhouse.
In a steady but quiet rise to prominence, the 37-year-old middleweight has won a total of 10 major, minor and regional titles in the last 15 years. Martinez is so skilled he’s ranked one of the three best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, with only Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao ranked ahead of him. Hunger, humility and circumstance made Martinez into a natural fighter. If Martinez’s life had been easier, you might not even know his name.
Raised in Quilmes, a poor town on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Martinez quit school at 13 to help his family and worked with his father in construction. As a teen, he fell in love with soccer and cycling, but athletics was an outlet, not a profession. Then at 20-years-old, he entered a boxing ring for the first time and it changed his life forever. “The second day at the gym, I knew I would become a boxer,” he said during HBO’s fight preview series 24/7. “I realized I could do great things in boxing.”
In 1995, Martinez began an amateur career that resulted in 39-2 winning record. Despite having gold medals on the brain, he opted out of Olympic training to go professional. A broken left hand sidelined him for a year but he returned to the ring and turned pro in December of 1997. Amassing victories, Maravilla’s 16 wins gained him a shot at his first American fight against Antonio Margarito in 2000 in Las Vegas. It proved to be a misstep and resulted in his first loss. He returned to Argentina where he returned to winning matches. In 2002, the country’s economic crash pushed him to venture to Spain in search of better opportunity. Undocumented, Martinez worked in gyms, washing dishes, construction and even modeled to stay afloat all while continuing to pursue his in-ring dreams. The move would prove fortuitous; in Spain Martinez met his fellow countryman and future trainer Gabriel Sarmiento.